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In The Public Interest: Getting To Know Your Washtenaw Health Department Leaders

Washtenaw County
Washtenaw County Health Department

In this segment of our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor area, WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with outgoing health department officer Ellen Rabinowitz and her replacement Jimena Loveluck.

Washtenaw County
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU
89.1 WEMU
(From L to R) Outgoing Washtenaw County health officer Ellen Rabinowitz and new Washtenaw County health officer Jimena Loveluck

Your title is Health Officer.  Why officer?

  • Legal designation.  Has police powers.
  • Health officers in Michigan have the authority and responsibility to protect the public’s health.  This authority comes from the Michigan Public Health Code.  It can include:
    • declaring a local public health emergency due to a disease outbreak,
    • detaining infectious individuals
    • prohibiting public gatherings when a health threat is suspected,
    • closing a restaurant or inspecting private property
  • More often, however, the job entails working with staff and the community to develop and oversee programs and policies that help residents access the conditions needed to live their healthiest lives.  Think safe food, clean water, access to healthy food, health care, and places to be active or seek support.


Info about leadership transition?

  • Loveluck will be taking over for current Health Officer Ellen Rabinowitz, who will retire later this summer after decades of public service with Washtenaw County.  To ensure a smooth transition, Loveluck assumed the Health Officer title June 24, but work with Rabinowitz until August 31.
  • News release naming new health officer

What does the Health Department do?

  • Responsible for the health of Washtenaw County residents.
  • Mission is to assure, in partnership with the community, the conditions necessary for people to live healthy lives through prevention and protection programs.
  • The Health Department is like a health care provider for the entire community – focus on populations, rather than individuals.
  • Health is defined broadly to include housing, transportation, food systems, criminal justice, infrastructure and practices that have an impact on health.
  • Focus where resources and interventions are most needed and can be most effective.
    • Health equity as guiding framework
  • Seeking input and leadership from community members with ‘lived experience’
  • Over our 75+ years, the Washtenaw County Health Department has:
    • Diminished the threats of communicable diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and measles.
    • Established an environmental health division that ensures access to safe food, water and air.
    • Developed substance abuse, sexual health and healthy eating programs.
    • Measured the health status of the county.
    • Worked continuously to ensure the health and safety of all Washtenaw County residents.

Current priorities and challenges

  • Leadership transition(s).  New Health Officer and new Washtenaw Health Plan Executive Director.
  • Resource challenges.  Stagnant funding vs. new and emerging issues, increased costs of operating. Water (PFAS, Gelman) outbreaks (measles), climate change (intense weather) growing crises (opioids, suicide).
  • Priorities include deliberately naming racism, other -ism and addressing health equity. Includes examining and changing how we work (i.e. intense engagement, listening…) but doesn’t change need for continued/mandated services. 
  • Current political climate has real impacts on health. People are reluctant to seek or use services or are treated differently when they do
    • Challenging
    • Response include “All are Welcome” campaign, safe services, etc.
    • Meeting community members where they are/service delivery
    • Building trust
    • Transforming our space (KaBOOM!)

What services do you provide?

  • Environmental health
  • Regulatory arm
  • Food safety
  • Inspections & monitoring – restaurants, wells & septic systems, tattoo and body piercing facilities, pools & beaches Gelman plume, PFAS/PFOS
  • Infectious disease outbreaks related to the environment/food/water
  • Complaints and mediation, education
  • Health services
  • Clinics
    • Immunizations
    • Sexual Health
    • Dental Clinic
    • TB
    • WIC (~6000 monthly participants; half of all Washtenaw kids participate at some point)
    • Hearing & Vision screenings in schools
  • Medical examiner
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Healthy eating and health communities programs
  • Communicable disease monitoring & prevention
    • Reportable diseases, outbreaks, animal bites and rabies risk (lots of calls and testing this time of year)
    • Vectorborne illnesses (i.e. mosquitos and ticks)
  • Maternal infant health program home visiting
  • Children’s Special Health Care Services
  • Data collection & sharing
    • Opioid epidemic
    • Youth suicide
  • Partnerships
  • Policy advocacy
  • Washtenaw Health Plan – health care access


How big is the Health Department?

League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area
Credit League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area / lwvannarbor.org
League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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